AT&T subscribers who live in or commute through Lansdale Borough will soon have to find another excuse for a dropped call.

New Cingular Wireless PCS, doing business as AT&T, received unanimous approval, with conditions, from the Lansdale Borough Zoning Hearing Board at a hearing Tuesday night to erect 12 70-foot-high antennas, which are cluster-mounted around a 20-foot-diameter guardrail, atop North Penn Water Authority's 68-foot-high water tower at Knoll Drive and Frederick Road. The tower is most visible at Lansdale Avenue and Seventh Street behind St. Mary Manor.

New Cingular Wireless is leasing space on the water authority tank, located in a Class A-Residential District. The company was seeking relief from some parts of the zoning code for that district related to antenna height, privacy fencing, setback and parking requirements.

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The approval means the antennas can extend above the water tank. AT&T will join MetroPCS and T-Mobile at the top of the tank. T-Mobile's antennas remain the highest at 78 feet, testified John Wolstenholme, of Wolstenhome Associates, a consulting and architecture firm for New Cingular Wireless.

“The existing tank is 68 feet, and the existing antennas are higher than that,” Wolstenholme said.

He later testified that attachment of the antennas will not affect the integrity of the tank.

“We will mount the antennas to the guardrail, and its height will be between MetroPCS, which is lower, and T-Mobile, which is two feet higher,” he said.

Setback relief was needed to construct a fenced-in equipment shelter at the base of the water tower, similar to equipment sheds constructed on site by MetroPCS and T-Mobile. North Penn Water Authority has prohibited landscaping at the base of the tower in order to maintain all structures safely and mow grass properly.

“Two-thirds of the shelter are where the radio cabinets are for AT&T. The other third is for the generator inside the shelter, similar to what North Penn Water Authority has on site,” Wolstenholme said.

New Cingular was also seeking a parking variance to allow parking on the road, which is a common practice for maintenance vehicles from MetroPCS, T-Mobile and NPWA. Wolstenholme said technicians from the two phone companies and the water authority park on the street about every month-and-a-half.

“There's a wide street out front, and other technicians have parked there in the past,” he said. “That's how they do maintenance.”

Board solicitor Greg Gifford notified Wolstenholme that his proposal of a 6-foot-high chain-link fence around the 10-foot-high equipment shed is wrong. Per the code, a fence has to be higher than any of the equipment, Gifford said.

Wolstenholme said there was no reason why New Cingular could not provide a taller fence.

Board member Constance Lezenby asked about noise that may emanate from the generator. Wolstenholme said its sound is muffled being inside the shelter. If it were outside, the generator would have to meet a threshold of 70 decibels for sound levels, he said. For comparison, normal conversation is 60 decibels, and earplugs are recommend at 85 decibels. Other noisy things at 70 decibels: Typewriter (remember those?), busy restaurant and a small vacuum.

Mark Rubin, a radio frequency engineer employed by New Cingular Wireless, provided an exhibit of the before-and-after geographic coverage area for AT&T in Lansdale.

With the new antennas, AT&T will gain coverage in about a half-mile radius.

“Now I know why I drop calls on Line Street,” said Gifford. “I no longer have an excuse.”

The zoning hearing board approved all requests with three conditions. First, the privacy fence must be a minimum of eight-feet tall, with high-grade privacy slats. Second, the construction of the antenna must adhere to the testimony and exhibits from Tuesday, in regard to cabling, the generator and fencing. Third, construction of all equipment, fencing and antennas must comply with all other Lansdale, state and federal zoning regulations.